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The United States’ Democratic Promise (IF Discussion Guide)

The 36-page discussion guide, The United States’ Democratic Promise, was published by Interactivity Foundation in 2011 and edited by Dennis Boyer. For this discussion guide, IF brought together panelists to explore what democracy has come to mean in the US, why we value it, and to guide further discussion by offering contrasting public policy possibilities. Below is an excerpt from the guide, which can be downloaded as a PDF for free from IF’s site here, both in English and in Spanish.

From the introduction…

In this project, the two panels met in Madison, Wisconsin, from September 2010 to May 2011. This included a period of significant political turmoil in Wisconsin, including two months of protests by citizen groups and labor unions and an occupation of the state capitol. Several panelists played a role in these protests while several others opposed them. Needless to say, conditions on the ground provided a very interesting backdrop to the fundamental issues involving democratic governance and democratic government.

Panelists considered democratic governance to involve those elements of civil society that contribute to the conversation on the direction a democratic society should take, the cultivation of skills that contribute to democratic citizenship, and the formation of public opinion on choices that democratic citizens must make. Panelists saw these governance areas as important, or more important, than the formal systems of elections and processes that make up democratic government. It was the sentiment of the panels that a discussion of democracy in modern society must take both governance and government into account.

The panels started with a recognition that the United States’ experiment with democracy has been shaped by many forces and that our understanding of what democracy is has grown steadily. It was noted early on that (more…)

Canadian School of Peacebuilding

The Canadian School of Peacebuilding (CSOP), an institute of Canadian Mennonite University, offers a selection of five-day courses each June. Courses can be taken for professional or personal development or for academic credit.

The CSOP is designed for anyone between the ages of 20 and 90 who is interested in peace work, including not-for-profit staff and interns, activists and peace educators, community leaders, religious leaders, teachers and professors, students (undergraduate or graduate), and government officials. All participants need to be fluent in English. The school is designed to be an environment characterized by educating for peace and justice, learning through thinking and doing, generous hospitality and radical dialogue, and the modeling of invitational community. The CSOP is for peacebuilders from all faiths, countries and identity groups.

Information about registration, costs, meals, and lodging is available on their website, as well as course descriptions, instructor bios, videos, pictures and stories from past years of CSOP, and peace resources. You can follow them on Twitter, and find them on Facebook and Instagram. Inquiries about the school, especially regarding registration can be sent to (more…)

Picture a Conversation™

Nearly five years ago, after seeing so many couples and families interacting with their devices instead of each other, author, advice columnist and now conversation catalyst Debra Darvick felt compelled to do something. That “something” was to create Picture a Conversation™, an engaging set of conversation prompts whose topics are inspired by her husband’s gorgeous nature photographs. Darvick has made it her mission to help people reconnect through face-to-face conversations.

What distinguishes Picture a Conversation™ cards from others in the genre is Darvick’s innovation of using nature images as the inspiration for the conversation topics. The front of each card features (more…)

Coming to America: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do? (NIFI Issue Guide)

The 23-page issue guide, Coming to America: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do? was published in January 2018 from National Issues Forums Institute and Kettering Foundation. The issue guide offers participants three options to use during deliberation on how to address current immigration to the US. The issue guide is available to download for free on NIFI’s site here and is also available in Spanish here, and there is a post-forum questionnaire for both languages.

From NIFI…

The immigration issue affects virtually every American, directly or indirectly, often in deeply personal ways. This guide is designed to help people deliberate together about how we should approach the issue. The three options presented here reflect different ways of understanding what is at stake and force us to think about what matters most to us when we face difficult problems that involve all of us and that do not have perfect solutions.

The issue raises a number of difficult questions, and there are no easy answers:

Should we strictly enforce the law and deport people who are here without permission, or would deporting millions of people outweigh their crime?

Should we welcome more newcomers to build a more vibrant and diverse society, or does this pose too great a threat to national unity?

Should we accept more of the growing numbers of refugees from war-torn regions, or should we avoid the risk of allowing in people whose backgrounds may not have been fully checked?

Should our priority be to help immigrants assimilate into our distinctively American way of life, including learning English, or should we instead celebrate a growing mosaic of different peoples?

The concerns that underlie this issue are not confined to party affiliation, nor are they captured by labels like “conservative” or “liberal.”

The research involved in developing the guide included interviews and conversations with (more…)

What’s Next, Alabama?

What’s Next, Alabama? is an issue guide created by the David Mathews Center for Civic Life in 2017 for Alabama Issues Forums 2017 – 2020. The issue guide provides a brief overview of economic issues facing Alabama and outlines three approaches in addressing economic infrastructure over the course of three forums. The David Mathews Center—a non-profit, non-partisan, non-advocacy organization—does not advocate a particular approach or solution to economic issues, but rather seeks to provide a framework for citizens to carefully examine multiple approaches, weigh costs and consequences, and work through tensions and tradeoffs among different courses of action.The issue guide, authored by Justin Lutz, Program Director at the David Mathews Center, outlines what “the economy” means to a community:

When we talk about “the economy,” we don’t just mean jobs and unemployment or the stock market. We define the economy as any issue that is important to your community on its quest to achieve a better life. Perhaps it’s ensuring quality schools in your community, or expanding broadband internet access, or having an educated and sober workforce, or a thriving downtown area—the economy is the community you live in, and your capacity to thrive and prosper as a part of that community.

The issue guide outlines three types of economic infrastructure: physical, human, and civic. These are used to examine the current state of a community, assess what the community would like to change, and map out a way to make those changes, over the course of three forums: (more…)

Promoting Mental Health in Community (IF Discussion Report)

The 18-page discussion report, Promoting Mental Health in Community, was published by Interactivity Foundation in October 2015 and edited by Nneka Edwards and Suzanne Goodney Lea. This is the initial draft of the discussion report; IF is planning to create a full discussion guide that communities can use when gun violence occurs in order to take mental health concerns into consideration when developing public policy. Below is an excerpt of the guide, which can be downloaded as a PDF for free from IF’s site here.

From IF…

This is a unique discussion project for IF, in that we have collaborated with the parents of a young man who was shot and killed in a mall rampage shooting in Columbia, MD, back in January 2014.  The young man who was killed (Tyler) was one of two young people killed before the gunman took his own life.  The shooter was only 18 and was most likely in the early stages of schizophrenia; he had actually tried to seek mental health care, but to no avail.  Tyler’s father did an interview on a local news station, and I was struck by his poise and compassion.  I’d never seen a parent in such a horrible situation exhibit such genuine empathy towards the shooter and his family.

It turns out that Tyler, who was just 25 when he was killed, had spent three years sober after overcoming addiction challenges.  He got sober once he made the connection for himself between his addiction issues and his own mental health state (he was manic depressive).  He had spent the three years before his death helping others to make the same connection between mental health and addiction so that they, too, could overcome their drug/alcohol dependencies.  The number of lives he touched surprised even his parents, who were moved by the many stories of the connections and healing Tyler had put out into the world around him.

Tyler’s parents have a strong desire to carry on Tyler’s work by helping citizens to become more aware of their own and others’ mental health—and of the importance of good mental health, more generally.  They are generally interested in creating a space to explore these issues in meaningful ways.  Violence is so rampant in American society, and, too often, efforts to discuss ways to curtail it become confounded by important debates over guns and gun restrictions.  Meantime, underlying mental health factors—which also must be discussed if we are to reduce the frequency and impact of these events–rarely get seriously explored.  We hope to begin to (more…)

Living Room Conversation Guide: Guns and Responsibility

Living Room Conversation published the conversation guide, Guns and Responsibility, which was released October 2017. The guide gives pointers on how to hold living room conversations in order to develop a deeper understanding between participants around gun beliefs, gun safety, and responsible gun ownership. You can read the guide below, find a downloadable PDF here, or the original on Living Room Conversation’s site here.

From the guide…

Overview
In Living Room Conversations, a small group of people (e.g. 4-7) people come together to get to know one another in a more meaningful way. Guided by a simple and sociable format, participants practice being open and curious about all perspectives, with a focus on learning from one another, rather than trying to debate the topic at hand.

The Living Room Conversation Ground Rules
Be Curious and Open to Learning
Listen to and be open to hearing all points of view. Maintain an attitude of exploration and learning.
Conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking.

Show Respect and Suspend Judgment
Human beings tend to judge one another, do your best not to. Setting judgments aside will better
enable you to learn from others and help them feel respected and appreciated.

Look for Common Ground and Appreciate Differences
In this conversation, we look for what we agree on and simply appreciate that we will disagree on
some beliefs and opinions.

Be Authentic and Welcome that from Others
Share what’s important to you. Speak authentically from your personal and (more…)

How Should We Prevent Mass Shootings in Our Communities? (NIFI Issue Advisory)

The 4-page issue advisory, How Should We Prevent Mass Shootings in Our Communities? was published September 2016 from National Issues Forums Institute and Kettering Foundation. The issue guide offers participants three options to use during deliberation on how to address the tragic realities of mass shootings that are occurring in our communities. The issue advisory is available to download for free on NIFI’s site here.

From NIFI…

The tragic attacks in Orlando, Florida, San Bernardino, California, and other places have raised concerns among many people across the nation. Other violent episodes, such as a teenager who was gunned down after returning home from the president’s inauguration, have also drawn attention. While mass shootings are infrequent, they may be increasing. Each event has devastating effects on the entire community.

Overall, the United States has become safer in recent years. Yet mass shooters target innocent people indiscriminately, often in locales where people ordinarily (and rightly) feel safe—movie theaters, college campuses, schools. How can we stop these violent acts and ensure that people feel safe in their homes and communities?

This issue advisory presents three options for deliberation, along with their drawbacks:

​Option 1: Reduce the Threat of Mass Shootings
The problem is that we are too vulnerable to violence. Communities and homes should be places where people are safe. The means for carrying out (more…)

Review of Democracy, Deliberation and Education

The 5-page review written by Stacie Molnar-Main of Democracy, Deliberation and Education (2017), by Robert Asen was published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 13: Iss. 1. In the book, Asen compiled and analyzes case studies of three school boards’ deliberations over a two-year period and how they addressed concerns of accountability and policy change. Read an excerpt of the review below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the review…

Democracy, Deliberation and Education is comprised of case studies of three school boards’ deliberations over a two-year period, during which board members addressed local educational concerns in the context of accountability and market driven state and federal policies. Through these cases, Robert Asen demonstrates how theoretical issues in deliberative decision-making manifest in the work of local boards as they decide how to approach issues like district extra-curricular activities, finances, personnel and open enrollment. Drawing on the work of deliberative theorists such as Habermas, Rawls, Dewey, and others, the book explores themes raised by the boards’ deliberation and argues that school boards are positioned to play a pivotal role in advancing the “Great Community” that Dewey envisioned.

The book includes five theme-based chapters, in addition to an introduction and conclusion. Early on, Asen references public sphere theory when he describes school boards as “strong publics” – publics engaged in both opinion formation and policy-making. As such, they serve as sites where “participants might engage one another to develop collectively perspectives and positions that each might not hold individually and to act on these perspectives and positions in charting a common course” (p. 35). Asen argues that school boards are distinct from most other examples of strong publics because they operate within an “education policy network.” This requires them to spend time interacting in state and federal policymaking environments, as well as in direct interaction with local constituents. From this unique space, the book explores how board members—as interlocutors— negotiate a policy environment which may constrain deliberation, while responding to contingent developments, localized needs and contested matters within (more…)

Review of Deliberation across Deeply Divided Societies: Transformative Moments

The 5-page review written by Nancy A. Vamvakas of Deliberation across Deeply Divided Societies: Transformative Moments (2017), by Jürg Steiner, Maria Clara Jaramillo, Rousiley C. M. Maia, and Simona Mameli, was published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 13: Iss. 1. In the book, the authors analyze group discussions from three distinct conflicts in Colombia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, and Brazil; and discuss the various approaches to deliberation in each area. Read an excerpt of the review below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the review…

Indeed, this book is the result of a very ambitious undertaking; Jürg Steiner et. al. have compiled and analyzed group discussions among ex-guerrillas and exparamilitaries in Colombia, among Serbs and Bosniaks in Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and among poor community residents and police officers in Brazilian favelas.

The discussions were facilitated by passive moderators who posed a general question about peace, but did not intervene; facilitators did not ask further questions and did not ask participants to speak up. In the case of Colombia, the groups were asked: what are your recommendations so that Colombia can have a future of peace, where people from the political left and the political right, guerrillas and paramilitaries, can live peacefully together? (p. 24). The Bosnian groups were asked to formulate recommendations for a better future in BosniaHerzegovina (p. 31). Finally, in Brazil, discussants were given the following question: How is it possible to create a culture of peace between poor community residents and the local police? (p. 36).

Steiner et. al. advance the on-going debate between those deliberative theorists who stress a purely rational approach and those who adopt a softer focus which incorporates finer threads of emotions. The authors argue that (more…)

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